Give it away

I like baking. I like the food that I bake, and I like the way my house smells when I’ve baked. But given that there are only two of us living here, we have a dilemma: what do I do with my baked goods?

Give them away, of course.

There’s kind of an… expansive nature to making food. With all the work that goes into prep and making and cleaning up, it just doesn’t make much sense cooking for only one or two. And why keep the finished food to yourself? It’s more fun to share it, to have someone around to try what you’ve just done, to get a second opinion on the results, or just to say, “Here, I made you food” and watch the other person light up. It took me awhile to realize: food is meant to be shared.

There was a time when I hoarded what I made. Maybe it was because I was a poor college student, and couldn’t spare a cent. Or I thought I couldn’t. The flour I bought today was $1.30 for a five-pound bag: pocket change. Yet to survive on a meager paycheck, I watched where it went like a hawk. I couldn’t possibly give away my food. I might need it. So I clung to it.

But the money was never mine, was it? That is to say, I earned it, and it was up to me where it went, but could I hold onto it forever? Could I dictate how much I got or when? Was I ever in charge of whether I had money at all? I could (and did) work diligently to keep the circumstances in my favor, fulfilling my duties and being punctual and polite, seeking to be skilled in my job. But money doesn’t last, and neither do the things I buy with it. Food isn’t the only thing with a shelf-life, and nothing is indestructible. The value of a thing doesn’t come from its scarcity, or the name of the one who made it, or the cost of the materials that went into it. That’s just the price. The value is what good you get out of it.

How much more valuable is the house where people are welcome, regardless of size? How much more valuable is a car, whatever the make and age, when it’s used to give rides? How much more valuable is the money spent on a meal when it’s shared with friends? How much more valuable is any talent when it’s given away freely? If we’ve got something good about ourselves, we ought to be sharing it: wisdom, experience, kindness, work, skill, knowledge, time. Not to mention material things.

My roommate taught me that one, though it took awhile. She has a massive collection of books, music, and DVDs, but she doesn’t hoard them. They make a lending library. If someone takes a fancy to something she owns, she’ll write down their name plus the name of the thing, and say, “Take it home! Just bring it back when you’re done.” The name-writing is only so she remembers where things are. There’s no due-date. And I, who have always been a bit possessive, have been humbled. It’s only stuff. It’s much more valuable to let someone else have it for awhile, especially if that means we can talk about the movie or book or music later, and how good it was. A book on the shelf is just a book; in the hands of a friend, it’s a bridge.

And thus stuff becomes more than just stuff. Materialism is wrong, certainly, but the material itself isn’t. A loaf of bread, a good movie, a new sweater: the money’s not wasted if they further a friendship, if they help someone in need or show love to those lacking. The money’s not wasted on a dining-room table if it brings a family together. The things we own can carry our love and friendship to those around us, if we let them. Giving the right thing in the right way is a blessing to everyone involved.

Stuff’s temporary. People are eternal. Some folks use people to gain stuff. Why not do it the other way around?